A trip to Nashville’s National Museum of African American Music shook Mali Bacon to the core. It was her first visit to the museum, where she learned about the true history of rock ‘n’ roll. Black musicians shaped the genre loved by tens of millions today.

“I was finding out Black people […] were making music that white people were imitating. They were watching their rehearsals and then playing that same music and calling it something else,” she tells Travel Noire. “I was blown away.”

Bacon left the museum with a sense of urgency to educate people about rock ‘n’ roll’s history. That urgency turned into action. Alongside her partner, Alan Bacon, and their organization, GANGGANG, the duo is making history by bringing the first Black rock festival to Indiana.

GANGGANG is teaming up with the organization Forty5 for the inaugural ‘I Made Rock ‘N’ Roll Festival’ on May 18 in downtown Indianapolis. It’s more than a music festival. Organizers hope the event will serve as a teaching moment on Black musicians’ vital role in starting the music genre.

The festival is a full-circle moment for Alan. He grew up in Indiana, comes from a family of musicians, is a musician himself, and has the history and contributions of Black artists to various music genres. During the pandemic, the Bacons started GANGGANG in 2020 as a creative advocacy agency to support artists and make cities equitable by way of that support. The co-founders say the pandemic highlighted the inequalities within the creative arts and the challenges creatives of colors face. Regarding rock ‘n’ roll, Malina says the mistaught history has negatively impacted Black artists.

“[These] truths, that have not been told as beautifully as they could be, have taken money away from households,” she says. “Black people have not gotten paid for what they produced for America.”

What To Expect At I Made Rock ‘n’ Roll Fest

GANGGANG confronts this head-on through its work, or what the Bacons call “programming to the truth.” The organization activates the creative economy and focuses on the economic viability of creatives through programming, advocacy, and production. I Made Rock ‘n’ Roll Festival is one example.

Janelle Monae, Gary Clark Jr., and Robert Randolph Band are just a few artists headlining the festival, which will take place at American Legion Mall. Beyond the music festival, organizers are also honoring Black artistry and authorship in rock music through a series of rock music listening parties, live music parties, and film screenings leading up to the festival.

“This is more like an advocacy festival,” Malina adds. “This is about the galvanization of people […] around the thing that we all know and trying to learn more so that more people can claim ownership, pride, and share it in this kind of love.”

After the festival, they hope people will walk away with a deeper understanding and pride for Black musicians who shaped rock ‘n’ roll, especially in a city known for its iconic Indiana Avenue. Indiana Avenue was the center for Black-owned businesses and Black art and culture during its prime.

“[This festival] allows people to have a sense of identity that has been stripped,” says Alan. “Part of this is fighting for what authorship looks like [for a group] of people that continues to be challenged with our own expression of freedom via art.”

General admission tickets are $75 and are available on the festival’s website.